Special thanks to Marilyn Nakazato and her wonderful clients, Shirley and John…
Huge thanks to Tracy, Patrick, all of their amazing friends and family, and the team at the Coco Gallery for having me be a part of such an incredible and unique wedding at the Skirball Cultural Center. One of my favorites to date!
Karla and Du are a couple of sweethearts who are absolutely crazy about each other. I don’t think either of them could have smiled wider during their first look. Their wedding ceremony and reception took place on a boat in Newport Harbor at sundown which made for a very intimate and beautifully-lit ceremony. The couple and their friends and family had a great energy about them that carried throughout the entire day. Everywhere I turned, I saw smiles and laughter – i.e. photographic gold. It was one of those special days where you end up changing out your memory cards four or five (or maybe even six) times and apologize to the lead when you hand over a big stack of plastic cases and about a million images at the end of the night (sorry, Ronan!), but you know it was worth it. Thank you Karla, Du and the most awesome Ronan Ragasa for letting me be a part of this beautiful day.
“How long have you and Scott been together?” I asked Sheila as she was shrouded in a cloud of hairspray. “Too long,” she joked. Just two doors down the hall of the hotel overlooking the marina in San Diego, Scott could have been the coolest, calmest groom I’ve met. All smiles, no hand-wringing, no pacing, no deep sighs. Sheila and Scott were a fun-loving couple who had planned this day for a very long time, and they also planned to enjoy it to the absolute fullest. Sharing the auspicious date of June 2nd with Sheila’s parents on their 50th wedding anniversary (wow), this celebration at the San Diego Museum of Art was anything but ordinary. Just check out their amazing wedding video by Letter Box Films and you’ll see what I mean.
Congratulations, Sheila and Scott. And thank you to my friends at the Coco Gallery, Thomas, Jack and Alfred.
Kristeen and Adnan are one of the kindest and most fun-loving couples I’ve had the good fortune to work with. I first met them while assisting Brett Hickman on their engagement shoot (check it out here) – it was COLD and extremely windy that day, yet we still managed to get to know each other and have a great time all while turning out some amazing images (nice work, Brett!). I was then asked to second-shoot their beautiful Sikh ceremony in Los Angeles for my buddy and fellow photographer, Ning Wong.
This was an entirely new experience for me so I was grateful for Ning’s wife and Kristeen’s close friend, Geetu, who gave me the quick rundown on Sikh traditions. I covered my head with a scarf, slipped off my shoes and looked to Geetu for approval before entering the temple – yep, I was good to go. Even though I was there to work, they welcomed me as a guest and everyone was eager to help me understand and enjoy the experience. The ceremony was peaceful, lighthearted and moving all at the same time, and one of my favorites to date.
Things really got interesting when it was time for portraits. Due to their different faith backgrounds, Kristeen and Adnan had several ceremonies and celebrations over a period of a few weeks, which I’m sure was both awesome and exhausting. The BIG ceremony was not for another week so this day was all about having fun, and instead of taking traditional portraits, the four of us wandered the streets to come up with scenes you might see in Bollywood films. Hilarity ensued.
By the end of the day, my cheeks hurt from laughing. Thank you, Ning, Kristeen and Adnan for an awesome day of “work”!
One of the first things photographer Ronan Ragasa asked me when I expressed interest in second shooting for him and his colleague Josh Fernandez was “How do you feel about shooting a 12-hour wedding?” I was all for it, although I knew a gig like that would require plenty of sleep, good shoes and maybe a few bananas to get through the day.
With comfy shoes and my bag packed to the brim with gear and snacks, I made my way over to the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica at 9:30am sharp to help Ronan shoot the groom and his guys getting ready. From my experience so far, men don’t usually want to have their pictures taken and it can take some time and effort to get them to open up. Francis and his groomsmen were the exception to the rule. Smiling, laughing, joking and interacting with us from the moment we arrived, they made our jobs way too easy and it was a great way to start the day.
We made our way to the beautiful mansion in Malibu Hills where we met the equally friendly and energetic Lana and her bridesmaids. From the rehearsal, to the ceremony, to dinner and dancing, this group was going to have the time of their lives no matter what – and it was so fun being a part of it. All of this positive energy made the day fly by and before I knew it, Ronan was tapping me on the shoulder to tell me it was time to go home. After nearly 13 hours of shooting, I didn’t want it to end! It was an awesome reminder of why I do what I do.
Thank you, Josh and Ronan! Looking forward to the next one!
Reacting to an incredible same-day video edit by Fluid Contrast Productions…
My friends at ZOe Productions invited me to shoot the Closing Night reception they designed for the 2011 Busan West International Film Festival hosted at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. From the bold colors, lighting and music, to the stylish furnishings, decor and captivating entertainment, this event was a fantastic example of ZOe’s unique ability to transform a simple soundstage into an exciting and luxurious multi-sensory experience. I can’t recommend a company more highly than ZOe Productions to craft a custom convention, gala event or show that is sure to be unforgettable. As a photographer, ZOe is by far one of my most-loved clients because I never know what to expect but I’m always thrilled with what I find – color, texture, challenging lighting scenarios and details abound. And as someone who is recently engaged, it pains me to know that they don’t do weddings. Sigh. Here are some of my favorite shots of the evening:
As the event was wrapping up, the ZOe team and I decided to have some fun with flash…
The latest lesson of the Scott Robert Mentoring Series focused on the wedding day workflow. Skilled and experienced photographers can set up and photograph a scene under extremely tight time constraints (and pressure, distractions and general chaos) because, well, they typically have to. From my experience with weddings, plans change, schedules change, key photo subjects disappear, and you really have no choice but to keep a cool head and roll with the punches. So our time with each of the models at the Santa Anita Race Track was very limited and mentorship coordinator Michelle Ford wasn’t joking when she called out “Time’s up!” at each rotation. Fortunately, models Amanda Maston, Aryn Taylor and Lexi Calo (featured below) were all beautiful and had the personalities and attitudes to match.
Ahh, the SoCal Photog Shootout — yet another high-pressure, time-crunched photographic endeavor. And I love it. Organizers Hanssie Trainor and Matthew Saville do a fantastic job of recruiting the best instructors, models, stylists, and hair and make-up artists in the region, and they find amazing locations, too. October’s shoot took place outside of a private estate in South Orange County called Maison Des Oliviers, and everywhere you turned was another beautiful scene or backdrop to place your subject. With groups of six to eight people and a limited amount of time to set up that perfect shot you’re envisioning in your mind, you really only have once chance to get it right. I guess that’s why it’s so much fun.
In September, I was asked to second shoot for an outdoor wedding in Rancho Cucamonga. I couldn’t wait to be a part of Amanda and Troy’s special day. The lead photographer Brett Hickman filled me in on their story and their style. They sounded like a very friendly, easy-going and down-to-earth couple – and they definitely were.
But on that particular Saturday morning, I woke to the sound of rain on my window. My initial thoughts were “It will pass. I’m in Orange, and the wedding is 40 miles north of here. Everything will be fine.” But shortly after, the rain turned into marbles. Then golf balls. We had HAIL like I’ve never seen.
I called Brett to go over our workflow for the day and to get his reaction to the surprise storm. He couldn’t have been less nervous. Checking the weather report for Rancho Cucamonga, we were in the clear. I was skeptical, but as soon as I climbed out of my car at the site, I quickly tossed my jacket into the back seat. It was a perfect, sunny afternoon to compliment a beautiful, rustic ceremony surrounded by trees.
My favorite part of the day? The first look. Troy got a little choked up at the site of his beautiful bride, which I’m sure made Amanda feel like a million bucks.
Michelle dragged her 18-month-old Kaya out of bed bright and early on a Monday morning for a portrait session in the Newport Back Bay. A smile was a rare occasion as Kaya wasn’t too fond of being asked to put on her shoes and climb into her car seat to have some strange lady with a camera make weird faces at her at that ungodly hour – not to mention the frustration of not being allowed to hold her open Tupperware bowl full of sliced bananas and strawberries in the car. I don’t blame her. Fortunately, Michelle and Kaya have a strong bond between them, so once in a while she’d forget I was there and smile for mom easily.
The once green and lush hills of the Back Bay had dried and faded to gold by the first week of October, but it was a beautiful backdrop all the same. Scattered clouds rolled across the sky and I did my best to time my shots for the fleeting moments of complete shade offering a nice, even light, and for Kaya’s brief smiles and eye contact. It wasn’t long before the sun came out in full force making a cool and comfortable fall morning feel more like the middle of July, but I knew that despite the limited amount of time and a slightly grumpy toddler, I had managed to capture some beautiful moments.
There are a number of reasons I enjoy doing photo shoots with fellow member of the Scott Robert Mentoring Series, Mayra Ariza. Aside from our common love of photography and junk food, she’s very friendly and easygoing, and we have a great time just wandering around with our cameras and trying things out. But mainly, it’s her voluminous hair and awesome cheekbones. Seriously, this girl needs to spend more time in front of the camera. For this particular photographic adventure, I made my way over to Mayra’s ‘hood and explored Downtown Riverside where there is no shortage of cool alleyways, greenery and architectural features to use as dynamic and interesting settings for portraits. I also introduced her to the magic that is the Japanese Cherry Tea Latte at the Coffee Bean and changed her life forever – it’s THAT good.
If you were an impressionable 90s kid, the line “must go faster” might remind you of the chase scene in “Jurassic Park” – you know, Jeff Goldblum’s character beat up and sprawled in the back of a Jeep being chased by an angry t-rex, casually urging the driver to floor it? For some reason, that’s what popped into my head at our first portfolio review of the yearlong mentoring program when Scott told me I wasn’t advancing fast enough, and it has since become my new mantra. Feeling a slight surge of panic, I braced myself for the “why” and hoped it wouldn’t be something too difficult to correct.
I sat next to him on a sagging, faded couch in a coffee shop in Old Town Monrovia – my iPad in my lap with the cover now closed, hiding images I couldn’t wait to share just minutes before. After five months of dedicating almost all my free time to developing my skills and my business, I wasn’t where I needed to be. Not a fun realization. Of course, he had a lot of good things to say as well, but at that moment I could only focus on the negative. Must go faster.
Seeing your work through the eyes of a seasoned professional is tough. A picture you once loved can turn into an eyesore in an instant, and you can quickly go from feeling immensely proud of your progress to feeling like you have to start all over again. But after I got over the initial disappointment of his critiques, I felt re-inspired. Where would I be if I didn’t have successful photographers like Scott and Michelle to give me honest feedback? Possibly blindly spinning my wheels and never knowing why I’m not moving forward. Having someone who holds you to a higher standard is a GOOD thing.
Scott guaranteed that shooting portraits just once a week will get me to that next level in a lot less time. Challenge accepted.
Waiting outside of the main studio at the Orange County Photography Center for our Scott Robert Studio Lighting class to begin, I struck up a conversation with a woman who I initially thought was one of our models (and I’m sure she didn’t mind my error). She was actually custom corset and costume designer Cheri Chagollan, and when she told me that the theme of her segment of the shoot was Steampunk, she instantly became one of my favorite people ever. For anyone who isn’t familiar, Steampunk is “a subgenre of science fiction… Works of Steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc.” Yes, I completely nerded out in front of my photographer friends.
OC Photography Center owner, David LaNeve, was the guest instructor for this particular class, and his lesson also covered lighting and posing for maternity, seniors and headshots. It turned out to be an incredibly valuable and thorough lesson, and I think we all walked away better photographers that night.
Back to Steampunk and some of the coolest images I’ve ever taken… model Ashley Gannon was amazing, as were makeup artist Joyce P. Luck, hair stylist Manya Keseloff, and of course the brilliant Cheri Chagollan. I cannot wait to work with these ladies again. And, as always, a big thanks to Michelle Ford of the Coco Gallery for recruiting incredible talent and coordinating our lectures and shoots.
I passed through the entrance to the courtyard at the Hotel Laguna and I was immediately grateful that I chose to wear shorts instead of jeans for our mid-afternoon SoCal Photog Shootout at the beach. Even the Itty Bitty Sweets cupcakes on display in the shade seemed to be sweating. I hopped around and took as many shots as I could of the beautiful The Tangled Vine decor and This & That Vintage Rentals furniture before retreating to the shady corners of the courtyard where groups of photographers huddled and exchanged business cards. 11 models emerged from the hotel/dressing room, squinting in the sunshine and probably all secretly hoping that his or her station would be inside the air-conditioned refuge of the hotel.
About 45 photographers were divided up into groups, spending 30 minutes at each of the six stations with their respective coaches: Matthew Saville, Michelle Ford, Pye Jirsa, Joe Barnet, Erin and Gavin Wade, and Aaron Dieppa. The “Bride Getting Ready” segment of the shoot reinforced my love of windows and their giant, soft-box lighting effect, and what I would call the “Harsh Light on the Beach” segment basically erased any fears I had over the dreaded early afternoon wedding ceremony. I also picked up a new technique from Pye Jirsa for getting a genuine laugh out of a difficult subject – ask your bride to pinch the groom’s butt, or vice versa. It works!
Taking over 800 shots and narrowing them down to about 20 selects was especially difficult with this shoot. I loved almost every single one, and it took a lot of self-control not to spend a week of my life editing in Lightroom. I blame the incredible scenery and ridiculously good-looking models. Seriously, they must have it rough…
See everyone who made this shootout a success here.
Roger and I took a day to explore the Planes of Fame and Yanks Air Museum in Chino, CA this weekend. Most of these historic planes had been completely restored to flying condition and polished to a mirror-like shine (and who doesn’t like shiny things?), but I was really captivated by the planes that were displayed exactly as they were found after spending decades at the bottom of a lake, or being abandoned in a swamp while its pilot and passengers spent weeks trekking back to civilization. I’m a bit of a history nerd – I love to get lost in museums and antique shops, and wander around historic districts daydreaming about the people who once owned, wore or lived in these treasured pieces of the past.
I brought my camera along for the trip, not because I had any idea of what I wanted to shoot or because I’m particularly fond of airplanes, but because I’m learning the importance of taking it with me wherever I go. Yes, it’s a Canon 7D DSLR so it obviously won’t fit in my back pocket, and depending on the lens I choose, it can get pretty heavy. I also have to consider the fact that I’m a 120 lb. female with a poor sense of direction and a penchant for wandering down dark alleyways because I see something cool painted on a brick wall (not ideal when you have thousands of dollars worth of photo equipment hanging around your neck). But aside from the opportunity to sharpen up my skills, it’s a chance to get inspired again, to capture something I wasn’t expecting and to just enjoy photography as if my car payment didn’t depend on it.
Here are a few of my favorite shots of the day…
I tried to find a corner of the Walt Disney Concert Hall that didn’t look like a spaceship, just for fun. There was a brick wall with a metal utility access door hidden behind some plants. Most people probably wouldn’t give it a second glance, and I barely noticed it myself at first… but I’m trying to train my brain to seek good light before nice backgrounds. The light bouncing up from the cement walkway was perfect. Added a little fill flash with the help of Jason Zalameda, and voilà. You’d never know we were actually surrounded by shiny metal buildings in Los Angeles.
From April 2009 to October 2010, I took the Metrolink from Orange County to LA five days a week for work. In that time, I missed a train or two home, leaving me to wait nearly two hours in the great big hall of Union Station — studying the towering windows, antique chandeliers and 80-year-old oversized leather chairs (I just assume they’re that old) — eating snack mix for dinner. This would be a great spot to take pictures, I thought, while munching on empty calories — long before I ever owned my first DSLR.
Fast forward to July 2011. I boarded the Metrolink train at Anaheim with my camera bag packed full of my most prized possessions. In an hour, I’d be jumping on the subway to meet some friends for lunch in Downtown before the photo shoot. In the early days of my LA commute, I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking such valuables into the belly of the city’s public transportation system. But after a year and a half without any major incidents — sure, I had a few run-ins with crazies hissing at me or asking if I needed a light for an imaginary cigarette, but no harm done — I didn’t feel the need to be any more cautious than if I were riding the Disneyland Railroad. Strange how that happens.
The models wandered over to our circle of photographers and bags. Even in short cocktail dresses, they were already glowing from the intense summer heat turning Union Station into a veritable greenhouse. It was pretty uncomfortable, but I was too excited to care. Maybe the bartender would let me seat a pretty girl at his bar with a martini glass in hand. Or what about capturing a windblown model waving after a train departing in a blur? How many stories can I create in this historical building in two hours?
One. Just one. As I was crouching down to snap a shot of Leslie lounging in the giant, beat-up leather chair… “You can’t shoot in here, just like I told the others,” I was interrupted by a bored security guard cracking down on a relatively small group of photography students. We reluctantly packed up and crossed to Olvera Street, where yet another security guard saw an opportunity to bully us. Luckily, we had a new photographer shooting with our group that day. Becker, a highly accomplished wedding photographer and founder of the [b] School, worked his charms and managed to get permission to shoot for the day without paying for a permit.
While the experience of assisting Scott Robert with his off-camera flash units during the shoot was priceless and incredibly eye-opening, I wasn’t in love with my shots from Olvera Street. But it made me even more grateful that I was able to capture this moment with Leslie anxiously waiting for someone, or something, in this classic setting. Next time I shoot at Union, I’ll pay for the permit… or just be a little more stealthy.
I ventured out with fellow Scott Robert “mentees,” Mayra Ariza of Mayra Ariza Photography and Jeah Tan of JnJ Compositions, for an afternoon portrait shoot/practice session. My new wireless flash triggers had just arrived in the mail two days earlier but our time together would be brief. Moments after attaching the transmitter to my camera for the first time, I realized it had slipped off somewhere by the bamboo stalks next to a creek in the Fullerton Arboretum. I searched for fifteen minutes, hoping another visitor would by chance pick it up, curiously press the shiny plastic button and set off my flash. But no such luck. Ugh. Moving on.
Jeah offered her flash and trigger system for the three of us to share and it worked out great. But after all the fuss over flash, most of my favorite shots of the day were composed in natural light. A valuable experience nonetheless being on the OTHER side of the camera, and it was fun to get to know Mayra and Jeah a little better. I’m also much more mindful of my gear now, I might add.
Here are a couple of my favorites. Mayra is a natural.
Last weekend began with my first live shoot at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Scott Robert LA Mentoring Series. Our group waited at the end of a long, shiny metal corridor outside of the venue, anticipating the first glimpse of our models. We newbies were nervous. I had never personally worked with models, or even off-camera flash for that matter. But I was prepared — to succeed, to fail, to learn.
“Here they come.” Bright colors, lace, flowers, ribbons, sombreros, an acoustic guitar and the click of eight pairs of dance shoes. The shoot had originally been scheduled to take place at Mission San Juan Capistrano, but they carried the theme all the way to the futuristic grounds of the concert hall in Los Angeles. Sharply contrasting elements, but beautiful nonetheless.
I finally had the chance to see Scott at work — adjusting the height and angle of his flash, maximizing the natural light, posing the models — and to witness the energy and confidence he brings to a shoot. He made it look so easy. It definitely wasn’t. Directing someone to pose and express a certain emotion, and working with off-camera flash, takes practice; and I have a long road ahead of me. But I had a great time and I couldn’t believe how much I learned in just two days. Scott’s stunning images were no longer a mystery. He had broken his process down into simple, big-picture concepts that anyone can master if they’re willing to put in the time.
Here’s my favorite shot from the session. Not perfect, but it’s a start.
I spun my car around on Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton searching for “Villa del Sol.” A good friend and former colleague gave me the opportunity to shoot a fundraiser benefitting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fullerton, where I worked as a Grants Coordinator and a lifeguard in college. Google Maps had steered me wrong — destination is on the left, not the right! — but I made it just in time. A beautiful, shady courtyard, Villa del Sol was a fantastic place to take candid shots from the sidelines (and the perfect opportunity to try out our new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L telephoto — just incredible). This was my third event and while I felt much more confident than before, my nerves were relentless, as usual.
There were a few tricky shots — one of all 60+ attendees from the balcony above where not a single person could hear me, apparently — but when I plugged in my camera that night to review my work, I saw progress. Better composition, better use of the available light, better use of my flash, and natural smiles despite the obligatory “May I take your picture?” that preceded them.
One week later, I was wandering around a 100-year-old farmhouse with a backyard shaded by orange trees on a cool, breezy afternoon. The Festival of Children Foundation had asked me to shoot for them again, this time for their Cultivation Event. Not only was I thrilled to have a repeat client, but an outdoor dinner party at sundown – where the guests pick fruits and vegetables in a garden surrounded by antique farm equipment — was too good to pass up. The only problem was that this one-of-a-kind event was scheduled on the same night as the first lecture in the Scott Robert LA Mentoring Series, and if I missed it, I would have to wait until next year to make it up. So I took a chance and opted to shoot the event in Costa Mesa from 5pm to 7PM, then do my best to avoid a speeding ticket and make my way over to the Orange County Photography Center in Brea for Scott’s lecture by 8pm (an hour late).
The setting at Segerstrom Farm was beautiful and I couldn’t have hoped for better lighting. Practically every guest trudged through the muddy garden with a smile, high heels and business suits be damned. It must have been my lucky day because despite the fender-bender traffic on the 55 freeway adding another 15 minutes to my drive, Scott was just starting in on his PowerPoint presentation when I slipped into a chair at the back of the classroom — tired, achy, hungry, dusty black pants, muddy dress shoes… but happy.
I woke up this morning with a big ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. After visiting and revisiting his website more times than I can count, and drawing practically all of my personal inspiration from his Twitter feed, I was finally going to meet award-winning international photographer, Scott Robert Lim. And not only was I going to meet him, he was going to share his post processing secrets with me. Of course, they’re not really all that secretive because he loves to teach and doesn’t withhold any information — but I felt like I was in on something awesome that very few had ever been a part of.
I slapped a peanut butter sandwich together (only because a bowl of cereal doesn’t travel well), hurried across the rainy driveway without an umbrella and jumped in my car. I can’t be hungry, I can’t be late. Scott was giving his lecture, “Post Processing is an Artform,” in Brea at 9AM and I wouldn’t let anything interfere with my ability to absorb every tiny bit of information he’d throw my way. I am a sponge.
Scott’s LA workshop coordinator, Michelle Ford of mila Photography, greeted me with a smile. I decided I must be the only first-timer in the group because she seemed to know all of the other students by name, and they all seemed to know each other, too. I took a seat at the table behind Scott, and took a deep breath to try to calm my nerves.
Scott leaned over and introduced himself. For some reason, I refer to myself as Stephanie instead of Steph when I’m nervous, as if it’s going to make my awkwardness any less obvious. We chatted a bit about an e-mail conversation we had six weeks prior. While browsing through a sea of photography websites, his stopped me dead in my tracks. THIS is what I need to strive to achieve, but in my own way, I told myself. I mustered up the courage to send him a quick note asking for three pieces of advice on how to develop your signature style as a photographer — but before he had a chance to reply, I had already discovered hundreds of gems on his blog and Twitter feed. By the time we finished chatting and he started his lecture introduction, I realized that anxiety ball wasn’t there anymore.
The first topic was Lightroom 3. I’ve been using the file management and manipulation software for about three weeks, and after sitting through a number of lengthy online tutorials (with plenty of breaks to do nothing more than walk around the house or pet the cat as to avoid insanity), I already feel very comfortable using it. But Scott and Michelle’s insights into style and an effective workflow were far more valuable than anything you’d ever be able to find online.
Scott segued into applying textures in Photoshop CS5 for fine art photography, but not before hammering in one of his key philosophies: “Garbage in, is garbage out.” He’s right, I thought. Before he transforms these images into the stunning works of art we see online, the lighting, posing, composition and exposure are already perfect. I still have so much to learn. I filled in nine-and-a-half pages in my little moleskine notebook, writing so frantically I hoped someone would ask a question so I could stop and vigorously shake my aching hand for relief.
The hours flew by and before I knew it, it was already 1PM. The group headed over to Lucille’s Barbecue for lunch. Again, nerves, but Scott’s boisterous laugh and Michelle’s kind nature seem to knock them down. I talked with a few of the students about their businesses and their participation in the Scott Robert mentoring program. They were all raving about how their work improved drastically even after the first session (Scott was critiquing their stuff on iPads and laptops at the table — it was very good). The year-long program includes eight lectures, four live shoots, personal coaching sessions and critiques, and some sweet bragging rights. Very tempting.
My old boss’s favorite line was “without action, everything is theory.” I need to get to that next level in my career and as much as I want to believe I can learn everything I need to know online, until I take action, I’ll just be the girl that knows a lot and takes OK pictures. And that’s not OK with me.